Preparation for Service
K. T. C. Morris, Southampton
We have considered the service of the Lord as being the duty of every believer; we all should be "fervent in spirit; serving the Lord", and we all should "by love serve one another". We looked briefly at the various ways in which every believer may serve. We have seen also that, according to the gift that God has given, everyone has his or her distinctive contribution to make.
"Deacons", "Ministers" or "Servants". We must now consider what is implied when Paul the apostle distinguishes "deacons" from the saints in general when writing to Timothy and to the Philippians. The word he uses is simply the second word for servant mentioned in our first study. Evidently there were a number of men both at Ephesus and Philippi who were recognized especially as servants, that is deacons, or ministers. Freeing ourselves from the way in which these words are used or misused in Christendom, we find from the Scriptures that we can distinguish between two types of such servants. There are deacons of the local church like those chosen by the assembly at Jerusalem to distribute to the needy widows; because they are chosen by their brethren they are accountable to their brethren. Such was Paul himself when carrying the gift on behalf of the Macedonian churches. Such was "Phebe our sister... a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea", Acts 6. 2; 2 Cor. 8. 4; Rom. 16. 1. There are also deacons, ministers of Christ Jesus, chosen by Him and therefore accountable to Him. Such was Timothy, and Paul's first letter was written that he might develop as a good minister, or deacon, of Jesus Christ; see 1 Thess. 3. 2; 1 Tim. 3. 8-1 3; 4. 6. A man might be a deacon of the church, and a deacon of Christ Jesus at the same time; such was Stephen the evangelist. We have come to reserve the word "deacon" for a man holding some special position of responsibility in a local church. But we must remember that the giving of titles and official positions is completely foreign to the spirit of the New Testament. Moreover, there is not the slightest suggestion therein of a committee of deacons to conduct church affairs in general, though in such a situation as is described in Acts 6 consultation would be necessary.
Maturity. Outstanding moral qualities are required of those who fill a public place in their service. These traits of character such as gravity, reliability, and self-control, imply a measure of maturity. This is essential, however great a man's gift. So the Lord's instruction is, "let these also first be proved; then let them serve". They are to be tested by experience so as to win the approval and commendation of God-given leaders in the local assembly, and in the district where they labour. Then they are to be free to serve as their Lord directs.
"It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth", Lam. 3. 27-28. Younger men should regard it a privilege to defer to older men who have had more education in the school of God than they. For the disciplines of local church life, like those of family and business life, develop character, character that is indispensable and invaluable in the Lord's service. At the same time elders should be generous in recognizing gift and zeal in younger men, and should give not only sympathetic scriptural guidance, but also every encouragement in the work of the Lord.
Saul of Tarsus started preaching that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, as soon as he was converted and baptized. After such a remarkable conversion, and especially as he had been trained as a rabbi, it is quite understandable that he should do so. "I believed, and therefore have I spoken" was his testimony, and should be ours. But he had much to learn before he was commended by his brethren to the special work to which God had called him, and many thoughts had to be brought into captivity "to the obedience of Christ". He had first to experience the solitudes of Arabia, just as our Lord Jesus was led into the wilderness after His baptism. Paul links this with the fact that he conferred not with flesh and blood, implying that he was concerned to learn direct from, and alone with, the Lord. What authority this later gave his ministry! Three years later he consulted with Peter and James at Jerusalem. Then he accepted the invitation of Barnabas to help in the assembly at Antioch. There he laboured for at least a year along with other gifted servants before embarking on his first great journey to carry the gospel to the Gentiles, Acts 9; Gal. 1. 15-19; Acts 13. 1-4.
Saul, now better known as Paul, became the Lord's servant immediately on his conversion. Later he was recognized as a minister of the Word of God. Then, with a fellow-servant, he was sent forth on a special service. He responds to this call encouraged by the support of his fasting and praying brethren.
The Call to Special Service.
It is evident from the Scriptures we have considered that God sometimes gives a pointed call to particular service. In what circumstances does such a call come? How does one discern the exact nature and sphere of one's service? When we look on the fields which are white already to harvest, when we look on the crowds which are as sheep without a shepherd, when we see the need among the scattered flock of God, we may well pray, "Here am I; send me". But precisely where and when? Four considerations will help us.
First, we have already observed that such a call comes to one who has previously been tested and has attained a measure of maturity in the Lord's work. The warriors in Israel were numbered from the age of twenty and upward, while the Levites served the priests in the tabernacle from the age of thirty after serving an apprenticeship from the age of twenty-five. Does not nature itself teach us that this was the wisdom of God, though we are under no such law? The Lord Jesus was eager to be about His Father's business at the age of twelve. But it is noteworthy that He was prepared to labour as a carpenter till about the age of thirty before entering upon His public service. Yet a man of thirty is comparatively young. The call of God usually comes in comparative youth. God loves to see youthful energy and enthusiasm harnessed to His service. "The glory of young men is their strength", and the message to all such is, "Give to the Lord glory and strength", Prov. 20. 29; Psa. 96. 7.
Secondly, there must be at least a readiness and proof of ability to work with others harmoniously. The Lord's servant should be able, like Paul, to write happily of his fellow-servants and fellow-labourers. Usually a younger man is called first to labour with an older brother; though when the love of many waxes cold, God is able to uphold a faithful man alone. What a privilege for Elisha to be chosen to help and to learn from Elijah, and for Joshua to minister to, and to learn from, Moses. The younger men inherited the faithful spirit of their elders. The Lord sent out the twelve apostles, and later the seventy disciples two by two. Similarly Paul and Barnabas were called to go forth together. "Two are better than one", for they can give one another advice, support and encouragement in the work. And who does not need all three?, Eccl. 4. 9-12.
Thirdly, it is the man found hard at work in his normal vocation who is called to devote himself more fully to the work of the Lord. This also is seen in both Old and New Testaments. Think of Elisha busy ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen; think of Peter and Andrew busy fishing; think of James and John busy mending their nets, and of Matthew busy at the receipt of custom. Each immersed in his daily work is suddenly called to immerse himself in the work of God. A man who has proved himself diligent and faithful in business is most likely to be diligent in the Lord's service. The idea of a young man having a theological training, and then becoming the "pastor" of a church, or a "full-time" preacher, instead of having a trade or profession is quite foreign to the Word of God. Earnest young brothers do well to consider the guidance of the Scriptures in this.
Fourthly, while every servant must be sustained by a personal conviction that the Lord Himself has called him to His service (a conviction wrought by private communion with the Lord), yet he should look to have the call confirmed by responsible brethren. When Barnabas and Paul were called to a special mission, their fellow-prophets and teachers gave themselves to prayer and fasting. This showed how seriously they regarded the giving of their fellowship in such a case. But then, in the testing days ahead, what a comfort it was to the two servants to have known their call so heartily confirmed by such brethren. It is important not merely to have support, but the support of such godly and gifted men as those at Antioch; or to be like Timothy, who had the commendation of the assemblies at Lystra and Iconium and then of the apostle Paul himself. Thus God graciously confirms convictions which sometimes come early in the path of discipleship, Acts 13. 1 -4.
The years of preparation are not to be despised. How little we know of the years of preparation in Elijah's life before he was called to do such a mighty work for God. How little we know of the first thirty years of our Lord's life on earth. Yet the pleasure of God in His beloved Son then was as pronounced as it was in the brief time of public ministry that followed.
Every young believer is provided with the divinely appointed training ground in the local assembly of the saints. Opportunities for service there, with both encouragements and rebuffs, prepare a chosen vessel. Wider experience is available when on vacation, and a young man in a small company of believers should seek help from gifted and experienced brothers in other assemblies, and from Bible studies which are widely available. The forty years which Moses spent in the desert were not wasted time. Choice vessels need careful preparation.